Losing battle

"Oh, I speak French."

No internet battle can truly be won. Comment flame wars drag on, and under cover of anonymity, people are free to express outrageous opinions and dispense really odious insults, because the biggest ass gets the most attention. This is common knowledge, of course. I mention it merely to offer background to my conscious decision to be a serial lurker.

The commentariat of any given site takes on a life of its own, and over time develops, I think, a kind of collective personality which dictates the tenor of conversation around a given post. This is in part determined by the extent to which the comments are moderated, and how effectively – over on Regretsy, for example, the ineffectual moderation of the etsy forums is justifiably mocked. A couple weeks ago, a really strange and prolonged flame war broke out on Gawker between one reader who perceived an anachronistic slight on Palin child Trig in a story about a “scholarly” article calling into question his parentage. [Note: like most, I struggled to make sense of the poster’s determined misreading of the story.]

This additional background is by way of acknowledging the futility of my annoyance and explaining why I did not/do not actually try to have a discussion about it with the commentariat I’m especially pissed at today. It is so utterly pointless to engage these people, a great many of whom, I have reason to believe, I would be really compatible with offline: another layer to my frustration.

Without further ado: the AV Club resurrected their occasional feature, Random Rules today. The subject was Kim Dickens, lately of Deadwood, and even though there’s not much overlap in our musical taste, I enjoyed her thoughts on the stuff that came up on her iPod. Sometimes Random Rules gets a dud subject with nothing in particular to say on his/her musical collection. Sometimes Random Rules gets a douche who oversells his/her collection with belabored attention to the obscure (these are the people I suspect of gaming the system). My point here is that Kim Dickens talked about her music unapologetically (ie, when a holiday song came up) and sincerely.

So what then was the first comment? “Fapfapfap…”

Le sigh. It’s hard to even know where to start…I guess with my own gut reaction: fucking cretin. Look, it’s no secret that Kim Dickens is a really attractive woman working in the public eye, and so the fact that she is the object of many fantasy lives is neither surprising nor inherently problematic, as far as I’m concerned. And although I’m annoyed by that comment specifically, I’m more troubled by the systematic sexualization of all female interview subjects on the AV Club, regardless of interview topic. Because this kind of comment is not an outlier on the AV Club, it’s the norm.

But what do I expect, when the commentariat of the site is dominated by a bunch of dudes? The comment is a joke, it’s funny, and I’m taking it too seriously. Right? I don’t have a sense of humor. Also, I am overthinking it.

Here’s the thing, though: that’s the kind of comment that is mildly obnoxious but acceptable between friends. Two dudes…a small group of dudes. But although a commentariat is a community, and as such, evolves a shared set of values, those values are public. I guarantee you that Kim Dickens’s reps looked at that article, saw the comments, and had a conversation about what to tell her. Because this isn’t an actress who’s all over the lad mags clutching her naked breasts in her hands, despite a stint playing prostitute on TV. (Not going to touch the tangled mess of issues inherent here if she did position her image that way.)

I guess what I’m saying is that to me, because it’s public, and because she and/or her reps are likely to read it, that comment may as well have been said directly to Kim Dickens’s face. And I’m guessing that the commenter would never say it to her in person, perhaps because he wouldn’t have the balls to, but also perhaps because he would want to behave publicly with something resembling respect. And FYI, being told that one is fodder for masturbation is not actually complementary. There are many, many more effective ways to convey one’s appreciation for someone’s appearance.

But this is starting to sound moralistic. As such, I may as well end with a moral.

It’s this: don’t be a dick online.

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